Child rapist Robert Burrett was warned and placed under supervision because of complaints about his behaviour around children more than three decades ago.
Burrett was described as a hopeless teacher, but went on to hold several senior positions at schools across the upper North Island before surfacing in Christchurch as a caretaker and bus driver, where he lured young girls into an underground shed and raped and abused them.
Burrett was able to move from one school to another without any alarm bells being sounded over his past.
Appalling that he got away with it for so long.
John Sandison, whose children were taught by Burrett at Lake Rotoma, said parents were so concerned about his behaviour when he was principal there in the early 90s they began a petition to get rid of him. It was signed by about 60 people.
Sandison said Burrett had been taking girls out of school on trips to Rotorua, supposedly to get them netball uniforms.
“There was a shopping centre with a pub on the way back and he would call in there and have a beer and put a bit of money on the TAB – he left [the girls] sitting in the van outside.”
Sandison said that although he did not believe Burrett had molested any children, in hindsight it seemed he may have been grooming them.
“You look back and you think, maybe he was testing the waters just to see what he thought he could get away with. You think, oh Jesus, how bloody close were our kids [to being victims].”
Sandison said Burrett was not accounting for the school’s money and was a poor teacher.
“The Olympic or Commonwealth Games were on and he just carried his big TV over from the house and put it in the classroom and the kids just watched that all day – they didn’t do any bloody schoolwork.”
Steve Parry, former chairman of the board of trustees of Pukenui School, where Burrett became deputy principal in the late 90s, said the school had tried for some time to get rid of him but ran into stiff opposition from the teachers’ union NZEI.
“They were quite evasive and defensive of the guy – it frustrated us to a high level,” Parry said.
A union has to stick up for its members, but not in all cases and at all costs. This is one of the challenges in NZ – that both bad and good teachers get defended.
I think it is important that people can join unions, and have them defend them. But when the unions also claim to be professional associations dedicated to the highest standards, you get a conflict of interest.